Tag Archives: mental health

Inexcusable poetry: Heir Apparent

One of the good things about a poetry writing class is that you write a lot of poetry. One of the bad things is that a lot of poetry is not necessarily a good thing.

Heir Apparent

Cleopatra passed all she knows
about de nial to me
her daughter

though I cannot lie to save
my life my powers of self-deception
verge on the supernatural

Let your life surprise you!

To jump-start my writing again, I decided to use an exercise I recall from Barbara DeMarco-Barrett’s wonderful writing book, Pen on Fire. I got the book a few years ago to help me develop a habit of writing, and it went fabulously until I hit a major depressive episode and my life went off the rails. But that’s another story.

The exercise is to use a picture postcard as writing prompt/inspiration. (I’d cite chapter and verse, but I can’t lay my hands on the book at the moment.) Not having a stack of picture postcards handy, I decided my collection of tarot card decks might work just as well.

The last few days I’ve been using the Kitty Kahane tarot, a cartoonish sort of deck with a simple but unusual color scheme. Today I turned up the Wheel of Fortune card, and writing about it led me to some interesting insights.

The Wheel of Fortune card bears certain resemblances to the The World card. Both belong to the Major Arcana, a series of 22 cards that stand for major forces that act in our lives.  The Wheel of Fortune is the eleventh card in this series, and The World is the twenty-second, so it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine they might be related.

From the Kitty Kahane Tarot

In the corners of the card stand the four symbols of the evangelists. The eight spokes of the wheel might be seen to correspond to the four quarters and four cross-quarters of the year. The hand on the right side of the wheel could be either stopping the movement of the wheel or preparing to spin it. The sphinx on top of the wheel represents wisdom; the sword she holds represents choice and decision. The snake can be a symbol of temptation, though it is also a symbol of renewal and healing. (It almost seems to be tickling the demon’s rear end with its tongue, which makes me laugh.) In bearing the wheel, the demon at the bottom might be serving out some kind of punishment.

The visual movement in the image is from the right, through the hand up to the top of the wheel, where wisdom presides, slithering down the left side with the serpent, to the belaboring demon below. The bad news, no doubt, is that this is the normal progression of things: we start out knowing what we’re about, but succumb to temptation and soon find ourselves toiling beneath the weight of our choices and their consequences. The good news is that the wheel keeps turning. Whether the hand on the wheel is our own or that of the Divine, the wheel has the potential to bring us up again to the top, hopefully the wiser for our experience at the bottom.

The booklet that accompanies the deck has this to say about the card: Much that happens to you is beyond your control. Let your life surprise you!

I rather like thinking about it that way.

(Kitty Kahane Tarot by Kitty Kahane, text by Lilo Schwarz, translated by Charles Warcup, AGMueller Urania, 2006.)

Half-life birthday

Today I am celebrating my half-life birthday, the 45th anniversary of my arrival on this planet. (I figure 90 years is a reasonably optimistic goal to aim for, and it’s not as though I’ll get in trouble if I actually overshoot it.) The number and the birthday itself don’t bother me; as a matter of fact, I find it rather exhilarating to think of myself at the top of a long, steep slope: the going should be easier from here on out because I’ll have gravity in my favor.

No, the real struggle I have is with the midlife crisis that settled in on me a while ago like a dense, enervating fog. The first stage, which I have dubbed “The Year of Living Regretfully,” was spent in exhaustive (and exhausting) retrospection and analysis. During this discouraging period, I examined nearly every decision I ever made and found that I did rather poorly in all but a handful of instances. (There are reasons this kind of experience ought to be reserved for the dying: it just about does you in, and after you’ve been through it, death seems like it would be a welcome relief.)

Recently, I seem to have undergone a mysterious seismic shift into a more energetic phase, which has both good and bad points. Instead of poring over past actions or pondering future possibilities, I find myself wrangling with a “Damn the torpedoes—full speed ahead!” mentality that verges on the dangerous. I spend enormous time and energy dissuading myself from all sorts of crazy-stupid actions. A part of me has reverted to invincible adolescence, leaving the rest of me to ride herd on a bewildering progression of bizarre impulses and cockamamie ideas, all of which seem unbearably attractive when they cross my mind.

Remember the long, steep slope I mentioned above, the proverbial hill that I have now crested? Today I have the most insane urge to let go of the brakes and hurtle toward the bottom, hell-bent for leather. I just hope my wiser self will prevail enough that I wear a helmet.

The crab (a poem of questionable merit)

I’ve molted again
split open and squeezed out
from a life too small
the new carapace hardens
thicker and tougher than before
claws larger, grip stronger
more of a mouthful, not such easy prey
maybe I’ll be bolder
just hope I’ll be lucky enough to live
to molt another day

Silence and comfort

I’ve not been writing much of late; I’ve been too lost in a life turned suddenly labyrinthine and well-nigh impenetrable. A couple poems have wrenched their way out, but with such great effort that the results seem pale and feeble. So I have sat in wordless darkness, waiting.

When you are still enough, silence becomes palpable. It becomes something you can feel, a physical pressure against the skin. Stranger yet, you can actually even hear it. I have finally been still enough for long enough to begin feeling and listening my way out of the labyrinth. And now the words are coming back, but in unexpected ways.

I’ve begun writing again, in halting bursts, in a black-and-white school composition notebook, in pen. I suppose it’s the writing equivalent of comfort food, harkening back to earlier times and simpler pleasures. Not all such memories are happy, but that doesn’t appear to matter. It seems there are some things I cannot say through a keyboard and the crisp legibility of Times Roman.

Blathering on

Despite the fact that I’ve been diligently microblogging for several days now, I feel as though I have been terribly negligent of my Daily Compost duties. Never mind that I’ve had bronchitis, a child with H1N1,* and an ongoing mental health crisis — wait, that last bit is standard operating procedure by now — I still feel that I’ve let down the three people who check this blog every now and then.

So here I am today, blathering on. I’ve half a mind not to post this just because it seems so trivial, but I suspect that the nagging sense of guilt and responsibility will triumph in the end. I HAVE been busy doing things, even writerly things; I just haven’t been busy posting to my blog.

I’ve been reading: Acedia and Me by Kathleen Norris; The Two Marys by Sylvia Brown; Tall Dark Stranger by Corrine Kenner; Writer Mama by Christina Katz. I’ve also been taking an online course that has required me to do a fair amount of research, so I’ve been taking lots of notes. (I take a lot of notes when I read, too, even fiction: I like to jot down turns of phrase, images, and words that catch my eye.) I’ve been fretting over a review of Star Trek (2009) that I started right after I first saw it back in May; it’s taken me a while to get my thoughts together, and now I fear it’s too late to be relevant.

What else…I’ve started baking bread again now that the weather has turned cool. I’ve kind of let the garden go because everything is so riotously large and wild looking that the weeds are hardly noticeable. (This is a very bad idea, by the way, because huge quantities of seeds are being produced RIGHT NOW by those same weeds. DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME!) I remind people daily of their chores and responsibilities, make sure that everyone gets where they’re supposed to go with the materials and supplies they’re supposed to have — library books, lunches, clarinets, etc.

All in all, I’m just cruisin’ through the daily round of things. I guess the rhythm of it has had a hypnotic effect on me, lulling me into becoming a non-blogging zombie. Interestingly enough, just writing this post has given me all kinds of ideas for future postings. I just hope I can remember them when I sit down at the computer tomorrow.

*Probable. They stopped testing around here when the CDC placed Kentucky in the “widespread” infection category.

NOT the easy way out

While doing dishes with me one evening last week, my SO asked about friends of ours who are going through a divorce. I related what non-confidential information I had, and he turned back to the sink, shaking his head, and said, “Boy, she sure didn’t make things any easier for herself, did she?”

I froze in disbelief and my eyebrows shot up so far that they disappeared into my hairline. The water was running and he had his back to me, so he wasn’t aware of my immediate, unfiltered reaction. I bit my tongue and counted to ten in my head, very, very slowly. Finally I spoke, carefully and evenly: “She didn’t leave him to make things easier for herself, you know. She left because she wasn’t able to live in that situation any longer.” He seemed to consider this for a moment, then nodded agreeably.

That comment has lingered in my mind ever since. In each of the four couples we know who are recently divorced or divorcing, the woman has been at home for six years or more, caring for children who are now in elementary school. In three of the four couples, the woman is the one who initiated the divorce. No woman chooses to leave the only source of financial support she and her children have in order to make her life easier. In truth, the suddenly single woman with young children who has been out of the workforce for several years faces a daunting, uphill ordeal to secure even the most basic living requirements; the fact that she finds this path the lesser of two evils speaks volumes about how difficult she found her marriage to be.

The persistence in our society of this perspective on stay-at-home mothers boggles the mind, and its casual articulation by my own partner is a bit disconcerting. Parenting ain’t for sissies, under any circumstances. Single parenting by agonized choice requires a level of courage and purpose that makes serving in the Marines look like a walk in the park.

Domicilium perfectum nervosum

“There is no real need to do housework. After a few years it doesn’t get any worse.” — Quentin Crisp

I know people whose houses are so spotless that the board of health could issue a certificate for them to serve food off their floors. Most of these people are compulsive cleaners and seem to partake in a form of distorted thinking usually associated with anorexia nervosa: no matter how immaculate their houses are, they always see dirt. They own a carpet shampooer because they use it more frequently than most people use a vacuum cleaner; they scrub the grout on their tile floors with toothbrushes.

Not everyone who cleans thoroughly and frequently suffers from some kind of mental imbalance — it is possible to be naturally neat and perfectly healthy. I suspect, however, that a large number of neatniks suffer, undiagnosed, from some sort of anxiety disorder, which they try to keep at bay by cleaning. The rest of the world may be going to hell in a handbasket, but the physical conditions within the four walls of their homes are completely under control.

As with eating disorders, the causal factors leading to cleaning disorders are many and complex, but it seems certain that social attitudes play an important role. Aphorisms such as “Cleanliness is next to godliness,” coupled with middle- and upper-class housekeeping expectations, probably account for a large part of this social component. Stir in a little insecurity, some low self-esteem, and a couple issues of Better Homes and Gardens, and you’ve got the ideal conditions for a full-blown case of House Beautiful Syndrome.

I don’t seem to suffer from this disorder, which I view as both a blessing and a curse. On the blessing side, I don’t have a lot of anxiety, although I do experience the pressures of social attitudes and expectations. On the curse side, my house NEVER resembles anything found in a magazine and I don’t feel all that driven to do something about it. I keep the Quentin Crisp quote on my refrigerator as a reminder of the two-edged nature of this state of precarious mental health: while it’s true that clutter and grime reach a certain equilibrium after a few years, I’m fairly certain that point of balance is well beyond the bounds of my own tolerance.